Several keys to growth in River Forest took major steps forward following village board approval Monday night of three initiatives proposed by its Economic Development Commission.

Trustees approved granting a Cook County property tax exemption that will help Fresh Thyme Farmers Market renovate the shuttered North Avenue Dominick’s site. In addition, trustees voted to issue requests for proposal to develop village-owned and adjacent property at Lake Street and Park Avenue and for a market analysis related to the creation of tax increment financing districts on Madison Street and North Avenue.

The EDC was created not quite a year ago to help spur expansion of the village’s property and sales tax bases. Its formation was the brain-child of Village President Catherine Adduci, who said the seven-member panel has exceeded her expectations “on all fronts.”

“They are engaged, valuable, relevant, passionate, and they want to make a difference in River Forest,” Adduci said. “I was so convinced this (forming the commission) was the right thing to do, and now I’m even more convinced of that.”

With the incentive now approved by River Forest, the grocery store chain will next need to win Cook County Board approval of the 7C Incentive, which was recently developed in part to address vacancies created when Safeway closed its Dominick’s stores and abandoned the Chicago market.

Adduci said she learned about the 7C incentive from a neighboring community and spoke about it with Village Administrator Eric Palm, who brought it to the EDC’s attention. The analysis done by EDC members Nena Mass and Collette English Dixon, who work in the real estate industry, and the debate during the EDC’s deliberations made Trustee Susan Conti feel comfortable that this (granting the incentive) “was a good decision. A lot of thought went into it,” she said.

A 7C was needed because of the considerable upfront funds — $4 million — that Fresh Thyme will be spending to get the store ready for opening in late 2015 or early 2016.

The property tax exemption will provide up to one-quarter of that investment, which will consist of a complete gutting of the North Avenue building. All new electrical, mechanical, plumbing as well as work on the onsite sewers will be undertaken.

Justin Haasch, Fresh Thyme’s director of real estate and market research, said the firm sought the River Forest location because “it’s a great community that any business would want to be a part of.”

A top priority of the EDC, the request for proposal to develop three parcels at Lake and Park was a revised version of one issued by River Forest in 2010 and in 2011.

The parcel, situated on the southeast corner of Lake and Park, was purchased with dollars from the village’s first TIF, which covered Lake from Harlem Avenue to Park. The site of a former gas station, it measures approximately 70 feet by 100 feet, with 70 feet of frontage along Lake Street and 100 feet of frontage along Park. A second parcel owned by the village is approximately 50 feet to the south and measures 50-feet by 145-feet. A third parcel is situated between the two and there had been some willing to consider this property in a coordinated redevelopment of the sites, according to an RFP for development of the area put out in 2011.

The response to proposals in 2010 and 2011 were underwhelming, Palm said. But with economic conditions improving in the past three years and with developers informally expressing interest in the sites, the EDC believes that there is an opportunity for successful development, according to a memo from Palm to village trustees.

Targeted use for the site would be mixed use, as it was in the two previous RFPs, but the mix of allowable land uses includes residential as well as commercial and retail development, Palm said.

The third of the initiatives from the EDC, a market analysis will help the commission determine the economic feasibility of new retail, commercial, and residential development along Madison Street and North Avenue.

Both areas qualify to become TIF districts, but the analysis is an important and necessary step to determine whether these corridors should be designated as such. The study also will help the EDC craft a strategy for development, Palm said.

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